Lancers bridge cultural gaps as security improves
December 28, 2007
ABU OBAED, Iraq - Soldiers in Company A, 2nd 'Lancer' Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division are continuing their work by patrolling in the communities near here building relationships and trust while operating out of a Coalition outpost (COP) west of Baghdad.
On one such patrol on Dec. 18, the Co. A troops examined a bridge in the area that was blocked by Coalition Forces earlier in 2007 to prevent insurgents using the bridge to transport weapons for the purpose of launching attacks against civilian targets and U.S. troops.
Thanks to security improvements in their area of operations, the Co. A troops are hoping to reopen the bridge with the help of a local area sheik and other local leaders.
"The bridge was originally blocked because it was a path of movement for Al Qaeda," said Walnut Creek, Calif. native 1st Sgt. Erik Marquez, top noncommissioned officer for Co. A. "Now that we have better control of the area and the help of the Iraqi security volunteers, we will be able to unblock the bridge so the local populace can make use of it, allowing them more freedom of movement throughout their own tribal areas."
Co. A routinely works with Soldiers from the 2nd 'Stallion' Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment operate, so for this particular patrol in which the Soldiers met a local tribal sheik to assess the bridge, the 2nd Bn. 5th Cav. Regt. troops were joined by a few Stallion Soldiers.
"We have an information sharing, working partnership (with the 'Stallions'.)," said Marquez. "So we did a joint patrol on the bridge to give their commander an understanding and awareness of some of the things we're doing."
Work will begin on the bridge in the coming weeks, however, the Co. A troops are not just building bridges but are working on other projects as well that will help the Iraqi people help themselves rebuild their nation, according to Marquez.
"They're (our troops are) doing an excellent job going from a purely security role to doing both that along with working alongside the local Iraqi people in helping them rebuild many of the things that Al Qaeda in Iraq has destroyed," added Marquez. "It's not exactly what we were trained for, but our guys have taken to it pretty well."
Several months ago, working alongside members of the 1st BCT's Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team, ePRT Baghdad-5, and Civil Affairs specialists from the 492nd Civil Affairs Battalion, the troops in Co. A assisted villagers in rebuilding a local area school.
As time past, the Co. A troops have noticed a marked difference in their area of operations, according to Cpl. Allen Doggett, an infantryman with Co. A.
"It was rough and tough when we first got here, but as soon as Al Qaeda moved out of the area, shops began opening and you could see children playing soccer," said Doggett, who hails from Irving, Texas. "At first people were afraid to come out of their houses, they might tell you where something was but they didn't want to show you because they were afraid if someone saw them with an American that they would be killed."
"We've seen some massive changes, this place was essentially a ghost town," said 2nd Lt. Tim Souza, a platoon leader for Co. A, who hails from Cheyenne, Wyoming. "The area has definitely been getting a lot better."
After moving into their COP more than seven months ago, the Co. A troops received mortar attacks everyday and firefights were not uncommon, however for the past four months things have been relatively quiet, according to Souza who credits the change in the security situation to local reconciliation efforts.
The Co. A troops have built strong relationships with both the local tribal sheiks as well as the local Iraqi security volunteers, who are risking their lives daily to protect their hometown neighborhoods, according to Souza.
"They (the sheiks) know our first names and they also know who belongs in the area and who doesn't," said Souza. "The Iraqi security volunteers have saved a lot of Soldiers lives, keep the area secure and protect the civilian populace. On this road alone, they've found 18 improvised explosive devices."
"It's really been worth it keeping that (the ISV) program working," he added.
In one recent incident, the volunteers received a tip from a local resident which led to the volunteers finding a weapons cache consisting of 175 mortars of various sizes which were then turned over to Co. A troops.
The Co. A troops said their experiences have been indelibly etched into their minds.
"I can definitely see the bigger picture from our contributions to help the Iraqi people," said Ramirez. "It's been a learning experience and an eye-opening experience. You can't really explain it to people back home, you have to be here in the moment. As one of the youngest Soldiers in the platoon, I feel like I've learned a lot and this place has changed everyone, whether they like to admit it or not."
"After seeing how the people here once had to live in fear, I've learned to appreciate many of the simple things that you have at home a lot more, like the freedom of getting to go to a ballgame," said Doggett. "I've also learned to appreciate life a lot more."
Souza said his Soldiers, who are battle hardened warriors, have definitely been appreciative of their wartime experiences.
"Most of my Soldiers tell me the same thing-that they're glad to see that we've made some progress in the community and although they're tired and ready to go home, they will definitely be able to say that they accomplished something positive while they were in Iraq," said Souza.
Some future projects that Co. A has been teaming with tribal sheiks and local leaders in the area to bring to local residents include renovation projects on two schools and work to repair a water treatment plant. These projects will also include the participation of ePRT and Civil Affairs teams.